Dear Fellow Humans,
On October 15, 2016, a long awaited swim-with-the-dolphins (SWTD) attraction, Dolphinaris, opened near Scottsdale, Arizona. This attraction houses eight bottlenose dolphins in a million gallon concrete tank and cost approximately 20 million dollars to build.
At first glance, this new Ventura Entertainment Dolphinaris theme park may look like a nice place to go to when visiting Arizona, but by buying a ticket, you’re putting yourself—and the dolphins—in harm’s way and supporting the cycle of animal cruelty.
You may be wondering why these dolphin parks are so awful, and why by going to them, you are endangering yourself and the animals.
CAPTIVITY IS LIKE DOLPHIN JAIL
First, dolphins are highly social and intelligent creatures that swim dozens of miles a day and dive to a depth of 990 ft. They are not meant to be kept alone or with one other dolphin in concrete tanks that are 24-by-24-feet and six feet deep, which is what is allowed by the Animal Welfare Act (AWA), which is administered by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
If this is true, you may ask, how big should a dolphin tank be, and how many dolphins should be in a tank together? The simple answers are:
- There is no tank big enough for a dolphin. According to Maddalena Bearzi, a marine researcher with decades of experience and president and co-founder of the Ocean Conservation Society: “At sea, dolphins are always on the move, often traveling hundreds, sometimes thousands of miles. Their large brains likely help them to succeed in foraging on widely scattered and temporarily available resources. Dolphins, like some other animals, are essentially complex social mammals that need expansive space to live in. A tank can’t even begin to address these needs…”
- Pods of dolphins range in size depending on location, species, and the abundance of food, though dolphins would usually live in comfortably sized groups that can not be simulated by simply adding in as many dolphins to a tank as the tank can hold.
HUMAN ENTERTAINMENT OR DOLPHIN HARASSMENT?
Swim-with-the-dolphin attractions are extremely unnatural and stressful for dolphins.
Hundreds of people swimming with the dophins every day is not healthy for them, and it leaves them tired and unhappy when the visitors go home. Dolphins don’t naturally eat dead fish; they hunt for live prey, so even the way they eat in captivity is unnatural for them.
Another problem with swimming with dolphins is the number of micro-organisms that can get transferred from dolphins to humans or vice versa. Dolphins can transmit a number of diseases to humans through wounds, or just through swimming with them. Dolphins urinate and defecate three times as much as humans. That makes it very hard to keep the water clean. You either have to use a lot chlorine (which is not good for dolphins) or swim in poopy water.
Also, dolphins that are kept in the desert can get a lung disease called Valley Fever. It has symptoms like the flu or cold, and may cause a rash. If the immune system is weak, Valley Fever can be fatal.
Dolphins kept in captivity also suffer boredom and are sometimes abused. They are made to preform tricks in front of crowds of people, and while that may entertain them at first; soon it’s just the same routine every day. Dolphins that are made to swim with visitor after visitor often get bored and distressed, making them more likely to show aggression.
Dolphins are usually trained with “positive reinforcement” techniques like using clickers, whistles and food. However, this method of training is not always as “positive” as it is made out to be. When dolphins do a trick, they are given dead fish, but in some cases, when a dolphin doesn’t do a trick, they are starved. If they misbehave, they can be put in small tanks with no companions.
According to Toni Frohoff, founder of Protect Our Dolphins (POD) and longtime researcher of human-dolphin interactions, “The dolphins will smile even as they’re dying. What people see from the surface when participating in these programs is superficial, and what goes on beneath the surface and behind the scenes is a facade.”
MMPA FAILS TO PROTECT
The worst thing about this is that it is all technically legal. Here in the U.S., we have a law called the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). This law is supposed to ban injuring, harassing, killing, or hunting any marine mammal, yet dolphins are still harassed and injured through their use as entertainers at dolphin attractions. To legally import or capture a dolphin, you only need to have a permit from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) that states that you are using the dolphins: (1) for scientific research (2) for public display (3) because they were stranded or (4) for conservation purposes.
The people at the dolphin parks claim to be “educating the public,” but you can easily walk out of a dolphin park having gained nothing more than a fondness for dolphins and a dolphin stuffed animal. The tricks the dolphins are trained to do at these attractions are not how dolphins would naturally behave, and dolphins in such facilities have been known to be drugged so that they act calmer around guests. As Dr. Bearzi says, “It’s time we recognize that the only, true reason we still keep these magnificent, large brained and socially complex creatures captive is for our entertainment; entertainment for the motive of making money, and lots of it.” The public would gain much more knowledge if they went on a boat tour and stayed a reasonable distance away from a wild dolphin pod.
CALL TO ACTION
There is no need to pay a small fortune to swim with an unhappy, potentially drugged dolphin that is confined to a cramped, dirty concrete tank, that is unfairly exposed to diseases like Valley Fever, and that is desperately bored. Even if you do learn something about dolphins, you are supporting animal cruelty. The memories you take away may be good for you, but these experiences aren’t beneficial to the dolphins.
Don’t support Dolphinaris or other SWTD attractions. Dolphins aren’t meant to be put in the desert, and they don’t want to swim with a bunch of humans. They are meant to be respected and protected, not harassed.
Instead, join Heirs to Our Oceans and many other ocean conservation and animal activist groups to protest against these captive dolphin shows and SWTD attractions, and write letters to your Congressional representatives asking them to amend the Marine Mammal Protection Act to remove the exemption that allows this cruel treatment of dolphins to continue. By doing so, you will be making the world a better place for all marine creatures.
Heir Aislinn Clark